Once Upon a Time, a couple of Marin friends came together and had a nice dinner and great conversation. One, a soft-spoken, successful architect named Fran Halperin had recently returned home from an adventure-of-giving during a road trip to New Orleans several years after Hurricane Katrina. With her husband, who's also her business partner, Fran stumbled into Biloxi, Miss., and found it still decimated.
“Within an hour of getting there we had tool belts on," Fran says with a lopsided smile. "We were going to stay a couple days and we stayed three weeks.”
They never made it to New Orleans.
Back in Marin, the architect/adventurer found herself wanting to volunteer by doing something on a local scale. Could she make a meal for a homeless shelter perhaps she wondered to her friend Glenda.
Glenda Corning, the other character in this story, is a gregarious artist and go-getter whose passion for sustainability, creative problem-solving and service is well known to many. She promptly offered to share the unique space she and her husband, Henry, share at the reconverted Meadowsweet Dairy in Corte Madera as a place to cook a monthly meal for 60 homeless people.
“We as a people have always had the tradition of feeding our neighbors,” Glenda says one morning over a cup of tea and muffins. “The difference is that most people aren’t connected to their kitchens and their gardens like they used to.”
Fran and Glenda's brainchild became Stone Soup Marin almost two years ago. Simply put, Stone Soup Marin is a commitment to create and serve "a home-cooked meal made with love" once a month for the men and women residing for that night in Mill Street Center in San Rafael, the only permanent emergency homeless shelter in Marin County.
In recent months, the cooking space has moved to the spacious kitchen of . Each first Wednesday evening of the month, 10 to 15 people gather to wash, sort, chop, cook and store a meal for that night with two to three people returning the next evening to help serve it at the shelter. The night of cooking for the volunteers also includes eating dinner together.
So how do you go about cooking for 60-plus people?
“Lots of hands help,” Glenda says, “and keep it simple. The meals that go over the best are comfort food, foods that taste good and that fill you up.”
Fran adds that having menus, shopping lists and recipes with the ingredients already in converted amounts is really helpful, referring to the convenience of knowing what 25 teaspoons or 30 tablespoons or three liters would come to in ounces. Fran also says it can be fun and eye-catching to shop for such a huge group.
“When you go through a grocery store with food for that many people, you really get some looks and sometimes I have the best conversations with people,” she says.
Long-time Novato residents and Gabriel Barkin have been helping prepare the monthly meals regularly for over a year and have recently included their middle-school daughter, Amaya, in the mix.
“We as a family wanted to do something of service and it’s important to teach teens to give of yourself,” Janna Barkin says. The full-time yoga teacher brushes away a strand of her long curly red hair and adds, “And it’s hard to do things with your teens! We don’t force it but we let her know it’s happening and she seems to enjoy it.”
Fran is also excited to have teens join in the cooking and the serving in recent months, an opportunity for them to earn community service hours and be exposed to some of the realities of life beyond Juicy Couture and Justin Bieber.
“Fran and I both feel it's important to break down the barrier of 'the other,'" Glenda adds. "We both feel really lucky to have what we have and that we’re positioned in society the way we are. To go to Africa and have consciousness about the water coming out of your own faucet. You think, surely I can help make the world a better place, even if it’s a tiny little thing.”
We sip our tea and Glenda adds in a way that let’s you actually believe it’s possible:
“If we’re going to save the world, it’s because we’re going to link arms and do it. We’ve lost that strengthening element in our country and we need to move back to that. We’re hoping Stone Soup will spread to Stone Soup Portland or whatever, and we’re always looking for creative ways to fund our efforts.”
Fran estimates it takes $3,600 ($300 per month or less than $5 per meal) to fund their efforts for the year.
The thing about this story is that it is "To Be Continued." If you would like to be part of Stone Soup, learn more about it or begin your own Stone Soup, become a friend of Facebook Stone Soup Marin. Fran and Glenda are more than happy to share their menus, recipes and shopping lists.